I enjoy a return to living room furniture as much as the next guy, but “#getbacktothetable” was seriously flawed. The slogan, which became the knee-jerk catch phrase from both UNBF’s Student Union and Graduate Student Association (GSA), was been employed ad nauseum to demonstrate both associations’ neutrality during the UNB strike.
Why we even needed a hashtag is beyond me. This was not the Arab Spring. Personally, I don’t use Twitter because I find it’s impossible to use the verb “tweet” without it sounding like something you do to a vagina. But the real problem with “#getbacktothetable” was that it only operated under the guise of neutrality, while it was in effect entirely self-interested.
What both the Student Union and GSA were actually saying in their demands to get classes back up and running was, “We don’t care if the administration is correct and the university is on the eve of financial collapse. We don’t care if the professors have to teach in burlap sacks. All we care is that we can get the degrees we paid for so we can all go work in middle management at Target.”
The official stance of both associations was as “neutral” as a boy sitting on Santa’s knee screaming that he doesn’t care how much those elves have to work, he wants it all.
Even if the stance of the Student Union and GSA was truly neutral (which––I really can’t stress this enough––it wasn’t), a stance of neutrality was incredibly ineffective. Neutrality took away all the pressure that we, the student body, could have been putting on either AUNBT or the administration. If we did want the strike to end, which I assume we all did, neutrality was probably the least effective way at achieving that goal.
If UNBF’s major student organizations were to have publicly sided with the teacher’s union, the administration’s stone-walling of negotiations would have been seriously jeopardized, hastening their return to our beloved table. If we were to have publicly sided with the administration, AUNBT’s claims that they have the interests of the students in mind would have been revealed to be full of faeces, therefore hastening their retreat the aforementioned table.
Ironically, the one thing that neutrality achieved is that it allowed both the union and the administration to continue using the student body as a puppet, further entrenching each side in their idealogical assurances.
If the teacher’s union was to enforce a restriction on how much a professor may work outside business hours, wouldn’t we appreciate the administration supporting our objection? If the administration was to raise tuition despite evidence that the university is in a financially stable state, wouldn’t we appreciate (if not expect) our professors to stand with us in opposition?
I understand that the issues at stake in the strike were complicated and nuanced, and that it may be difficult to garner a consensus as to which side the Student Union and GSA should support. But we could have had a university-wide vote. If URec is allowed to send me an email every time adult swim is cancelled, surely it would be possible to widely announce a student plebiscite.
For the first time in a long time, the rest of Canada knew that we existed. Before the strike, I’d wager that most people in Toronto thought New Brunswick was an island. This was our opportunity to tell the rest of the country what we value. What we said is that we value ourselves; the rest was for the provincially appointed arbitrator to sort out.
Name your favourite Nobel Peace prize laureate. Chances are, that person didn’t win for being neutral, but rather for taking a stand and putting their values at stake. In other words, doing something.
By remaining neutral, or at least under the veneer of neutrality, both the Student Union and GSA squandered any agency that they at one time retained. By remaining neutral, both the union and the administration were allowed to use us as pawns, saying that we supported them because we hadn’t said otherwise.
What was our fear with taking a side? Did the Student Union and GSA actually think that there would be academic repercussions if we were to publicly support the administration? Furthermore, while characterizing President Eddy Campbell as a pre-Civil War land owner is one of my favourite pastimes, even I didn’t think that if we voiced our support for the union, he would make us all work eighteen hour shifts in his tobacco fields.
The only repercussion there would have been is that the next time the union and administration do battle in our university, both sides would work to gain our support, rather than just assume they have it or not care that they don’t.